Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Assisted Suicide

I've tried to stay more or less out of this one, but today brought the news that the law on assisted suicide has been 'clarified', although the level of that clarification is slightly unclear and seems to consist mainly of a list of factors that will be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to prosecute.

Firstly, let's remember we're talking about assisted suicide, assisting and enabling people to kill themselves. We are not talking about euthanasia, which is actually doing the killing. Big difference.

Secondly, let me state for the record that I am NOT suicidal and have no intentions to kill myself or enlist others to do the job for me. I have reasons to get up in the morning and am looking forward to tomorrow, next week, next year and beyond.

However, I can understand why some people might want to kill themselves, and how it is possible that they can feel this way with a mindset of 'calm and rational' as opposed to 'agitated and desperate'.

I can also understand that on a practical level it is a difficult thing to actually physically do and succeed with if you are impaired in some way. You need to be sure that your chosen method will be effective, and that you will not be thwarted by a lack of physical strength, or an inability to get hold of the necessary materials, or by a carer calling for an ambulance instead of allowing you to get on with it. A failed suicide attempt is in many ways worse than a successful one, as you have to continue to live with not only the factors which made you feel suicidal, but also the shame and frustration of failure, not to mention any additional impairments caused by the attempt.

So I understand that, since you'll need help, you want to be sure that those close to you won't be prosecuted for allowing and enabling your suicide - although I draw the line at anyone else actually carrying out the act.

But. Any kind of blanket law saying "this is legal, that is not legal" wouldn't work. It would be open to too much abuse. Which is why, although today's clarification seems at first glance to just be a fudge, I quite like the way they've done it.

Partly because there are so many different situations, so many factors, so many shades of grey. There needs to still be case-by-case consideration.

But mostly because it forces people to take the risk of prosecution, and therefore forces them to think really, really carefully about whether it is a risk worth taking.

You see, it's a big and serious undertaking, to help somebody to end their life - or indeed to ask for that help. It should never be a quick decision. It should not be taken lightly.

If, as an incurably ill and suicidal person, you know that there is a risk that your loved ones may be prosecuted for helping you, you'll think long and hard before ever bringing it up. If, as a loved one, you know there's a risk you may be prosecuted, you'll think long and hard before agreeing to take that risk. If, despite the risk, you both go ahead anyway, then it demonstrates how important you think the issue is.

If the suicidal person and their helper look at today's guidelines and, for example, rewrite the Will to ensure that the assistant does not stand to financially gain from the death (and remember that in many cases the assistant is the next of kin and most likely to gain, that's a big something to give up) then that also helps to demonstrate that they have both seriously considered the issue, the outcome, and what is most important.

I think forcing this kind of consideration helps.

I still don't like the idea and I still don't think it's one I'd go for myself, but the way they've gone about the clarification makes a sort of sense to me.


Mandy said...

I disagree Mary, I don't think forcing this type of consideration helps. For instance, I want my next of kin to benefit financially on my death.

So with these new guidelines I'm put into a situation where I have to either, take energy which I probably wouldn't have to transfer all assets into my next of kins hands Before dying, so they wouldn't benefit on my death. The lawyers would win financially on that aspect Or simply suffer rather than risk my husband or sons being prosecuted because they would inherit.

I want my children/husband to benefit, I don't want to write a new will donating a life times work/savings to a charity simply because I'm in too much pain to endure talking to lawyers to see how I can still make sure my beloved sons are as safe as I can make them in the world.

So, being a Mum, I would suffer a long and agonising death rather than leave my sons penniless in the world.

Mary said...

But that's exactly what I mean! You say you wouldn't do it because the price would be too high. That's fine. Others may decide that it's a price worth paying. That's also fine. Others may decide that their offspring inherit everything, but will not be involved in the suicide attempt, and that's fine too.

Most will probably find that unless they've transferred their assets to their next-of-kin Before dying, all that there ever was to inherit has been soaked up in care fees anyway and that it's effectively a non-issue. One can only hope that they have raised their offspring to be grown-up and independent enough to survive in the world, rather than being reliant on inheriting.

My point was that it *should* be a tough choice. The toughest.

Mandy said...

Or as you said earlier, I end up 'doing it myself' and end up in a worse situation than I was before.

Yes, that would be my choice, one forced upon me to safeguard my family who I hold most dear.

You can't just witter on about care home fee's and raising offspring to be able to survive in the world as an argument, my argument is that my wish is for my children/husband to benefit. Should my husband be prosecuted because at my instruction he has helped me to end my terminally ill and very painful life (hypothetically)? A husband that has been a loyal companion for 20/30/40/50/60 years, should these people live in fear that this will/can happen?

Mary said...

I can "just witter on" about whatever I wish, thank you. As it says at the top of the page, this is my blog.